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Tortoises rescued from closed facility

Gay Bradshaw and her husband, Jeff Borchers, are learning about the characters of 13 desert tortoises that spent part of the winter in their living space in the Applegate Valley while they were in brumation, a reptile’s form of hibernation, and are now housed outside in four domes.

“We are getting to know their personalities,” said Bradshaw, director of The Kerulos Center, dedicated to providing sanctuary for animals and continuing her scholarly work on common capacities animals share with humans.

Kerulos received the four male and nine female tortoises from the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center, a federal facility in Nevada, which shut down due to a lack of funds. All the tortoises have health issues and their fates without rescue would have been uncertain.

Hania, a male, is a mix of the Sonoran and Mohave breeds of the tortoise. He’s in his 70s and has a shell deformity called “pyramiding,” likely from improper nutrition.

“He’s very human-oriented,” said Bradshaw, as Hania moved toward a photographer. “He pretty clearly had some time with humans.”

Several other tortoises are missing limbs. Dog attacks or tethering by humans may have caused loss of the appendages. Many of the animals may have been kept inside by humans, and tales exist of tortoises kept in closets, said Bradshaw.

“A lot of them had a lot of atrophy in their heads and necks,” said Bradshaw. Grazing in the domed enclosures helps strengthen the animals.

Chuchip, another male in his 70s, is less social with humans and other tortoises. He tends to hiss when approached. Both males have shells 14 inches long and weigh about 14 pounds. Males are separated from each other and the females.

Four females, Tootsa, Sasquasohun, Tajgakwuna and Kele, are more social.

“In the morning they all cluster together and heat up in the sun,” said Bradshaw. They extend their legs as they warm up. Kele is the youngest tortoise at 2 to 4 years old. She’s 6 inches long and weighs 2 pounds. The names come from the Hopi language of the Southwest.

Kerulos received the animals Sept. 26, shortly before brumation began in October, from which most of the animals didn’t start to emerge until mid-March. Two animals were kept out of brumation for health reasons and two were brought out due to similar concerns.

The animals were weighed and checked by a veterinarian during the hibernation, when they don’t drink or eat. Those with excessive weight loss were awakened.

Brumation was handled in the home and another indoor area because the couple wanted to be on the cautious side. Burrows in the domes will ultimately be heated so the tortoises can make it through winters colder and damper than their Southwest habitat.

Pacific Domes, Inc. of Ashland gave substantial aid to provide domes, which are covered with chicken wire but otherwise are open to the sky. Borchers created burrows within the domes where the tortoises can retreat at night and seek shelter in hot midday weather. Plans call for adding two more domes.

Tortoises are checked three or four times per day, but the animals are fed only once, in the morning. Commercially produced tortoise food is a blend of dried plants from their native Southwest habitat, but the tortoises also consume vegetation that grows in the domes.

“They seem to like the clover here,” said Borchers.

Additional tortoises may be taken in from private organizations that rescue them. Volunteers are just beginning to assist with the care. Additional information can be found at www.kerulos.org. The center is not open to the public.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Gay Bradshaw is the founder of The Kerulos Center. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
A tortoise takes a break from eating at The Kerulos Center, a sanctuary near the Applegate River that houses desert tortoises and rabbits with special needs. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch